August 13, 2009
Clean, simple, accurate, humorous.
This was published as a standard text on the subject through the 1970s. It is a brief and pointed essay: he does not go on for 400 pages on intricacies and hundreds of examples and exceptions like deeper medieval polisci texts do. Instead, he lays it out in what came to about 35 pages in my compressed text version (8.5 x 11, single-space, no index). Having learned to write before obfustication in academia became the norm, it's really understandable, even for high school students.
November 20, 2007
Carl Stephenson (1886-1954) was an early to mid-20th century American Medievalist and a student of Charles Homer Haskins (America's "first medievalist"). This little gem was written in 1942 before the more fashionable works on Feudalism by Bloch, Ganshof, Reynolds and Brown. It is a solid and easily digested foundation written in a delightfully simple down to earth style. Even if some of the perspectives have been questioned or expanded by later works, this still provides a necessary and accessible foundation. As the opening paragraph of the 1956 edition says:
SINCE its first printing in 1942 the late Carl Stephenson's 'Mediaeval Feudalism' has enjoyed a distinguished career. Eminent historians of America and Europe have reviewed it with high praise in the most respected historical journals. To the college freshman it has been a "vade mecum" in the awesome task of mastering such complicated feudal principles as subinfeudation and liege homage. The omniscient graduate student has at first reading whisked through it with disdain, casting it aside for the imaginative hypotheses of a Marc Bloch or for the impressive tomes of German historians, only to come meekly back to it to obtain his bearings and a sense of proportion. Seasoned scholars and teachers have read the book with discrimination, realizing that behind each page stood years of research and thought devoted to the study of feudalism in mediaeval Europe; they in turn have recommended it to their students.
Another book by Stephenson, 'Medieval History: Europe from the Fourth to the Sixteenth Century', was for decades one of the most widely used textbooks in the field. He is probably best known for 'Borough and Town: A Study of Urban Origins in England' (1933). Stephenson was working in an age rife with prejudiced nationalism among European scholars; as an outsider he helped show the commonality of medieval institutions and move the discussion beyond 19th and early 20th century nationalistic concerns.
(STB 11-07 42)